USPTO and EPO Partner to Create Joint Classification System

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO) have agreed to work together to form a joint patent classification system.  One of the goals of the partnership is to align the U.S. and the EPO classification systems with the International Patent Classification (IPC) system used by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations.  The jointly developed classification system will be more detailed and designed to improve patent searching.  As a result, the two offices will move closer to eliminating the unnecessary duplication of work between the two offices, thus promoting more efficient examinations, while also enhancing patent examination quality. 

Currently, the USPTO classification system is a system for organizing all U.S. patent documents and many other technical documents based on common subject matter. Each subject matter division includes a major component called a class and a minor component called a subclass. A class generally delineates one technology from another. Subclasses delineate processes, structural features, and functional features of the subject matter encompassed within the scope of a class. Unlike other major patent document classification systems, the U.S. patent classification system is not based on the IPC system because it predates the IPC. 

The forming of this joint classification system is seen as a milestone achievement for the Five IP Offices (IP5). The IP5 is a forum of the five largest intellectual property offices in the world that is being set up to improve the efficiency of the examination process for patents worldwide. The members of the IP5 are:

  • the European Patent Office (EPO),
  • the Japan Patent Office (JPO),
  • the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO),
  • the State Intellectual Property Office of the People's Republic of China (SIPO),  
  • and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The IP5 Offices account for 90% of all patent applications filed worldwide and for 93% of all work carried out under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). 

With the USPTO and EPO collaborating on this joint classification project, the IP5 offices can continue to move toward a Common Hybrid Classification. This Common Hybrid Classification is one of the ten Foundation Projects of the IP5, which were devised to harmonize the search and examination of patent applications in each office and to standardize the information-sharing process between patent offices.

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